St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Decorating the Graves

When Dad was a youngster, the folks in the country celebrated "Decoration Day," the day that cemetery plots were renovated and flowers planted in the ground near the marker, whether it be a fancy stone or a wooden cross.  

Nowadays Memorial Day is the widely used term and a remembrance of soldiers who died in wars or those who fought and have passed on takes precedence over the more general view of the day.  

Following several generations of my own family, Margo and I spent the day visiting the graves of grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents  -- those who are buried in Barron County, the homestead location for the Hansons and Lystes (Dad and Mom).  

We brought along our seedling geraniums, somewhat small yet and not in bloom, cleaned out the pots, added some new soil and nutrients and planted 3 geraniums in six planters in 4 cemeteries, stopping to visit relatives as we made the tour.  

After the 33F morning start, the afternoon turned out to be pleasant, and it was a nice day to be touring the rural country roads.    I took very few photos, distracted by other thoughts today. 

The Maple Grove Baptist cemetery where most of the Norwegians from my grandmother Paulson's side of the family.  Probably half of the folks here are from or descendants from Vikna, Norway -- a rocky island area half way up the Norway coast--folks who were subsistence farmers and fishermen.  

Although the geraniums look small and are not blooming, they do much better than putting out nice store bought blooming ones.  These are unsprayed and have no hormones that forced little plants to bloom far earlier than they should have -- so they will do fine if it rains enough. When we pull up the stems and roots of last year's plants we can understand how well they thrived (or not) last year.  They did not do well last year -- must have had some long dry spells. 

Uncle Lawrence Lyste's grave -- WWII soldier.  His children haven't been out to add flowers yet this year -- probably worried about the frost and waiting until Saturday.  The little stone directly behind is Grandma Clarice Nelson Lyste Burns in the Otterholt cemetery, town of Prairie Lake

Driving on Hwy D between Hillsdale and the Otterholt Cemetery, a few Amish farms are of interest.  Above is the rural school house with a pile of slabs (sawmill across the road) for firewood and an outhouse.  Below is one of the large plain Amish houses.  Large houses for large families.  

We visited distant cousin Norman Larson near the Arland cemetery where the roar of frac sand trucks from two nearby sand mines was intrusive.  One mine is directly kitty-corner across the intersection from the cemetery with the church sandwiched between mine and giant sand pile.  The roads to the cemetery were closed so we had to circle around to find a way there.  All being upgraded to handle hundreds of semi-trailers of sand heading to drying plants and railroads. 

Norman is in his 80s and lives on a dairy farm that he and his nephew run.  "I don't do much more than count the calves in the pasture each Sunday on my way home from church -- getting too old for hard work.  My nephew and I have been in partnership for 30 years and he has mostly take over."  

Sister-in-law Connie's mother, Donna, lives on the way to Grandpa and Grandma Lyste's graves, and a whole lot of uncles and aunts of many generations as with grandparents -- all in their own section of the cemetery at the New Scandinavian Lutheran Church a few miles east of Hillsdale.  

The name has been around for 100 years or more, but the church is actually only a few years after the old one was burned down by vandals.  Robert, Hallbert, John... Lyste brothers of grandpa lived well into their 90s and I met then sometimes on visits.  However, grandpa died of pneumonia at age 50 in 1930.  

"You know Margo, if grandpa had lived to be 90, he would have died in 1970 and I would have gotten to know him," I mused.   Of course that isn't true.  Because he died when his family of 5 children was from a baby up to 9 year old Mom, the family broke up and was adopted out and that is how Dad ended up meeting mom -- through the adopted family.  So they would have never married and I would have been somebody else -- totally different and likely much better than I turned out.   But such is life. 

Donna was at home and doing well.  We visited a while and gave our usual gift we bring for each stop -- a bottle of this year's maple syrup.  Donna is in her 80s too.  The stops we make along the way have dwindled as folks die and if we don't do something about it we may have none left--so need to consider the next generation of folks we visit now.  

On the way back we drove through Barron and visited Dottie, one of our Polk County neighbors and fellow members of the Polk County Genealogical society.  She was having some heart problems and decided to head to Mayo Clinic hospital in Barron after several tries closer to home.  She was sitting up and feeling much improved and optimistic these doctors were actually figuring out something that would work and get her ready for her and husband Russ' (another Russ) 65th anniversary next month.  

Finally, we wandered north on the way home to Cumberland and stopped to visit 2nd cousin once removed, Albert Hanson on the way to Luck.  He was doing well.  "Frosted last night here, 28F on my thermometer."  He has apple trees too that are in full bloom and frosts are not good to get apples pollinated and set.  We didn't have time to visit, but promised to stop in on the way home from one of Margo's Barron Mayo therapy sessions soon.  

I look forward to this every year, having started riding along with my parents, then driving them with my brothers and later with Margo.  Last year I took Scott along, as he should know where his ggg grandparents are buried too.  

Filming the street signs to make a map for Scott for the days when he will take over Decoration Day duties.
The color of the day was verdant green -- the trees mostly leafed out and giving up their mild shades for the summer green.  Grass lushly green with yellow dandelions wonderfully adding contrast.

  The Amish were pasturing some horses along the highway.   One Amish young woman was getting her mail at the box along the highway.  She was dressed in a blue long dress -- the blue that a RIT dye would make and a black cap.  Very neat and prim looking, but tight enough to show womanliness.  Odd how the throwback image creates a yearning for something lost in memories of long ago.   Of course, I didn't take a photo, as Amish have a Biblical injunction of photos being "graven images" strictly forbidden.  
Margo handled the trip well, and although she stayed in the car except for lunch and Dottie's visit, seems to be back to enjoying the extended drive again.  When you whole life has been centered around avoiding pain, as it gradually recedes, things open up again. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Walking the Birds

For a true bird watcher, you go to where the birds are -- even it means a trip to the North Shore or the prairies of Nebraska.
Margo and I like watching the birds, but don't pursue them.  If they visit the yard then we welcome them with some sunflower seeds and a little nectar and enjoy them, but no life lists or birding trips.  

My late friend, Allan Swenson, one of those rare people from the back woods who is a few orders of magnitudes more intelligent and curious than any of the neighbors told me there is more to see in your own backyard than you will ever have time to search out.   With a telescope, magnifier, camera and endless patience, by his 80s he had become acquainted with most of his own 40 acres.  

So we are settling in here on the home 40 and exploring what we can see from the backyard.  Yesterday some of the weeds battling for survival in the orchard were the subject. 

 Today it was the birds from the porch.  The following photos are all taken within 100 feet of the porch--most from on the porch itself.  

Sandhill cranes in the field to the north across Evergreen Av

We knew he was in the yard when we heard a meow.  Then hidden in the tree top, a wild and adlibbed lengthy song parodying a dozen other birds--our visitor a gray catbird 

In winter we have a dozen or more blue jays keep us company.  In the summer a pair or two hang around to nest.  Their nest often contains the blue Menard's tarp plastic unraveled strings and miscellaneous yard pickings. 

Feeder birds, the rose breasted grosbeaks will stay and nest with sun flowers nearby. 

Indigo buntings are spring visitors, fueling for a few weeks and then heading off somewhere else to nest.  I see them along the pines and oaks along the River Road sometimes. 

Maybe a grackle?   Dad disliked them -- he planted a row of spruce in the yard and the grackles landed on the top leader branch and with their weight broke it off.  "They tromped my spruce and ruined them," he complained.  The spruce just bushed out a little more so not really so much damage.  This could be another non-popular bird, the Starling.  As an immigrant, like the English sparrow, it is looked down upon by those who are purists--probably the same folks who are against immigrants coming to America.  Probaby should drop back 50,000 years when no humans were in the Americas (at least I think that is the theory).
Now I have to take a little of my opening statement back--I did recently go to Cushing to the Co-op Feed Mill to seek out an English Sparrow.  There is a flock that eats the spilled grain.  When we were an active dairy farm, we had our own flock of sparrows, but sadly, the sputzies have disappeared with the waste feed.  The old days of horses and oats in the horse manure littering the city and town streets were heaven for the English Sparrow.  

Orioles must find other things to eat or drink than sugar water.  Can't imagine how they and hummingbirds grow without a little minerals and nutrients too. 

Orchard robin babies barely hatched

A lone turkey can be found most mornings strolling through the orchard or picking gravel along Evergreen Av

A female gold finch (I think).  The winter flocks are gone and a few hang around waiting for some of my thistles to mature.  

Brother Ev labels this LBJ's -- Little brown jobs -- meaning sparrows of some type other than the English sparrow. I am not sure. 

Tried hard to get a hummingbird in the shine of the evening sun.  Not quite, but the reflections are pure gold!

Tree swallow on the porch birdhouse
These photos are in the last 3 days -- a few of the several hundred shots I take trying to get a decent one.  For me, decent is the whole bird in the photo, in focus, and true colors.  Hard with sky backgrounds, moving birds, focusing troubles, so lots of flubs.  

It is fun flubs and all to see what is in our own backyard.   

Saturday, May 16, 2015


In trying to spot the first Monarch Butterfly of the season, I went on a milkweed hunt.  Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweeds, and until the milkweeds are up a few inches we rarely see any Monarchs this far north.  

I photographed all of the weeds I saw in the orchard/pasture an acre or two.  Can you identify them?  

Some folks call dandelions weeds and other call them flowers.  This year I put them in the flower category as I have seen so many bees and butterflies visit them over the years and Margo loves the yellow and green contrast in the yard.  Mom always had a few dandelion greens with her spring meals for the spring tonic.  Cutting them just before they go to seed stimulates them to keep blooming.  They keep trying to reproduce by producing more flowers.
The creameries quit coloring the butter yellow each spring as the flush of dandelion fed cow's milk came in and gave butter the "natural" look of yellow.  

Are violets weeds or flowers?   Cows munched these too as part of the cow pasture.  They seemed to grow well in the cow pasture and thrive where other delicate wild flowers fail. 
Creeping Charlie not in bloom -- on the north side of the house.  People who insist lawns must be a single variety of grass are continually trying to rid themselves of this plant.  When it blooms the tiny purple flowers, it is very heavily visited by bees and other insects.
A question for you--Are folks who want a perfect grass lawn conservatives or liberals or doesn't it matter?  I like diversity and welcome the illegal lawn immigrants blown in by the wind or seeded by the birds.  I like to watch natural selection in action from my perch in the easy chair on the porch. 

Two common vines -- the woodbine (Virginia Creeper) above and the wild grape below.  Both spread easily by birds passing the seeds--and are found under anything where a bird might perch from electrical wires to fencelines and trees.  Woodbine has blue-black grape-like berries (inedible by mammals but fine for birds).  Wild grapes are small and have a strong grape flavor and good to eat or make grape jelly. 

I don't know what this weed is, but it could be the dreaded wild parsnip, but I don't think so.  I suppose if I rub some of the plant leaves and stem juice on Margo's arm and see if it leaves blisters, I could be sure.  

The large rhubarb shaped leaves are from the first year growth of a burdock.  Next year it will grow very tall and have the sticky seed balls that inspired Velcro as a fastener.  
A clump of Goldenrod.  The late August brilliant yellow blooms on top of the stalk are a favorite of bees and butterflies.  Grandma Nettie told us boys "I hated to see the goldenrod bloom, as it meant summer was over and I had to go back to teaching school again for another winter."   I remembered that and agreed back in those 6 years when I too was a school teacher.  

Cows and deer love red clover that comes as a volunteer in the old pasture.  It is a biannual, but reseeds itself if left unmown.  Beautiful big red blooms are a bumble bee favorite.   
The nettle stings your bare skin.  Some folks make a tea from the young leaves, but it contains some irritants, so I leave it be.  The long fibrous stems were, according to what I have read, used by Native Americans as fibers for string.  It is a perennial so once you have a nettle patch it spreads by root.  One type of nettle grows in the deep shade of the maple woods, and this kind in more open areas.  Generally it gets crowded out except like here under an apple tree or where the ground is disturbed.  

Hard to mistake are the various types of thistles that grow even in tightly mowed lawns.  They are a favorite of gold finches for the nesting material and seeds.  In the olden days of trying to maintain good hay fields and cow pasture, thistles were despised.  The weed commissioner might see them in your pasture and stop by and tell you to cut them before they went to seed.  Did you know that rural townships appointed a weed commissioner?  The job was to remind everyone to cut the weeds in their pastures, fields, and roadside ditches to keep agriculture thriving.  An oats field yellow with mustard or yellow rocket was a sign of a poor farmer as was the barnyard thistle patch and the straggling milkweeds in the cow pasture.  Many weeds thrived even with heavy pasturing as they had their own defenses of bitter taste, thorns or actual poisons.   Nowadays with herbicides like Roundup that kill everything except what is "Roundup ready" the days of taking the scythe to the barnyard and slaughtering weeds is a memory only for we older folks.
Great Uncle George told us about his memory of his Grandpa, Olaus Hansson, the Swede.  "I had to go tell Grandpa to come in for dinner.  I was just a little shaver, 4 or 5 years old, and Grandpa was out clearing a thistle patch with the scythe.  I hollered to him, but he just kept moving deeper into the patch making me come in after him.  Grandpa was just plain ornery."   It could be that Grandpa was just hard of hearing too!

I think my thistles are Canadian Thistles.  They have beautiful light purple round ball blooms made up of tiny strands.  Beautiful and, like most other blooming weeds, excellent for bees.  Minnesota classes this plant as a "noxious weed."   That means it interferes with agricultural use.   Sometimes our first crop of a newly seeded hay field seemed to be half thistles.  Continued mowing 3 crops a year for a few years mostly got rid of them.  Nothing like using your bare hands to grab hold of a hay bale and get poked full of holes by the thorns, even more vicious dried.

Note the variety of weeds coming in the bare spot where Chuck took out a box elder tree and left unsodded ground.  Weeds have a harder time seeding into sod, so gopher mounds and other ground baring activities give them a foothold.  In the old days of vast prairies to the west, plant diversity often came about from the pocket gopher mounds.  I have a few of these in the orchard and old pasture that sometimes I trap and sometimes I ignore.  A gopher mounded pasture soon becomes so uneven that you can hardly drive a tractor over it without falling off.   

A bare spot in the grass -- hotbed of weed activity.  Thistles and golden rod seem the most likely to fight it out for the location.  
Not sure what the weed is here. 

The leaves in the center are wild raspberries coming from bird strewn seeds under the apple tree.

Been working on mowers all week, and if I get them running, I might just decide to revert to my farmer type childhood when weeds robbed us of our living and were sentenced to be beheaded by scythe -- we boys running it many long hot hours.  Hard to change sometimes.

 Never did find that milkweed plant -- guess it is too early yet.  Monarchs, as of May 14th had still not made it into Iowa so a few weeks maybe. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mower Power

Spent some time this week monkeying (repairing?) my three riding lawn mowers.  One for the cabin, one for the farm and one for the MN home. 

The started is bad on the MN one so have to get a new one.  It also needs the valves adjusted to the starter doesn't have to work so hard to turn it over.   It is a 1999 MTD (Murray)

The cabin mower, MTD Yard Machines 38" cut just needed new belts.  There are 3, two drive and a deck.  They are bothersome to replace (and almost $30 each locally).  Spent two afternoons with Scott getting them changed, oil change and new blades.  

The farm mower is the Cub Cadet that doubles as a snow blower.  It is a 50 inch 3-blade deck that mounts under the tractor.  I haven't used it much, but with the others having trouble got it together and works well.  

The two drive belts come off of the double pulley.  The lower half has a moving side that changes the speed by running the belt at the center or varying distances farther out on the pulley as the sheaves come closer together.

Looking under the seat through the battery holder opening.  Have to take the big pulley off with the socket to replace that short belt.  Also a spring tightner pulley has to come off.  Not too hard to replace after you have done it once.
To put on the main drive belt, had to unbolt the engine and lift it up to get the belt under the belt guides.  That is actually how it is done by the manual.   Actually not too bad either if you have done it once.  

Now I will try putting on the 3-point mower that goes behind the Ford tractor and I use to mow trails and some light brush.  I hope to find some morels on the trails. 

Margo is feeling less shoulder pain with her new soft collar.  The old one pushed down so hard it left dents in her shoulders.  Slow but steady progress and slow but steady lessening of the pain.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

New Collar for Margo

Margo got a new collar at her 6-weeks after surgery checkup.  It is more comfortable--a soft rather than a rigid one.  The old one was making her shoulders hurt.  This one lets her turn her head a little and move it more.  The doctor checked the new x-rays and said that everything looks good, however that the healing process is many more months ahead.  The next checkup is in 6 weeks and maybe Margo will graduate to a cleric's collar or even a stiff turtleneck!
Busy fixing broken mowers this week -- belts on one and a starter on the other.  Also the Super C Farmall rim I spent so much time on fixing last year -- the one that was rusted through, finally split out and so I ordered a new one that came yesterday.  A job removing the tire and putting it on the new rim and mounting that on the tractor.  

No morels yet, although the neighbors seem to have found some already.   In the garden, the strawberries are beginning to bloom and the rhubarb flourishing, but the flat seeded plants haven't sprouted yet.  
Corn fields on the farm have sprouted after almost an inch of rain over a few days

Lettuce and weeds seem to handle the cool weather

Fenced out of the garden, this rabbit plots a rabbit under-the-fence hole

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Green after a Rain

A 2/10th inch rain this afternoon and a 3/10th this evening washed off the dust and turned spring greener than green.  So of course, I had to take a few clean photos.